Gold futures whipsawed their way through an energetic trading session Tuesday as Mideast tensions and a mixed stock market failed to spark either rally or rout. Volumes, however, surged on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, or Nymex. Traders switched August contracts in favor of those expiring in December, as "the roll" provided more action than the price. Gold for August delivery closed the session where it started the day at $618 an ounce on volume of about 80,000 vs. 67,500 Monday. December gold lost 40 cents to end the session at $630.30 with an estimated 29,306 contracts changing hands, compared with fewer than 22,000 in the previous session. With open interest of 12.2 million ounces, the December contract is now the benchmark that traders will watch through November. "The market is in limbo at the moment," says Kona Haque, a commodity analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London. "Once there are more clear signals where the dollar is going, then I think we'll see movement upwards in gold prices." EIU sees the dollar -- which rallied Tuesday -- weakening in 2007 as the economy heads into a recession, followed by recovery in 2008 and beyond. Gold should reach $700 an ounce in 2007 before pulling back thereafter to around $650 in 2008 and $550 in 2009, Haque says. In the meantime, jewelry demand for the Indian fall wedding season should help keep a floor of $600 under the price. "The longer it takes
the market to consolidate, the more physical demand we are likely to see," states the Gold Forecaster's latest weekly newsletter, alluding to the fact that jewelry fabricators have been spooked recently by highly volatile metal prices. The lack of price direction for gold was also apparent to other observers. "It looks like technical trading is driving the market," says Peter Spina, a technical analyst with GoldSeek.com who sees firm support between $590 and $600. If a rally does help gold prices pierce resistance at $625, he says, traders should expect a rally to $675.
The gold bullion exchange-traded funds iShares Comex Gold Trust ( IAU) and streetTRACKS Gold Shares ( GLD) were trading modestly up in afternoon trading. Gold miner stocks bucked the downward drift that was prevalent in the broader stock market, with shares of Barrick Gold ( ABX), Newmont Mining ( NEM) and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold ( FCX) trading up in the afternoon. It's notable that Freeport stock has underperformed that of Newmont and Barrick over the past three months. That's likely because the stock is dogged by lower forecast volumes, concern over political risk in Indonesia where the company's only mine is located, and the fact that investors have found more compelling plays elsewhere in the sector, says Amir Arif, an equity analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey in Arlington, Va. He also adds that some investors see Freeport as a copper producer with gold as a byproduct. He maintains a hold rating on the stock, preferring instead Phelps Dodge ( PD), which he says really stands to rally if, as he expects, the company fails to consummate its merger with Canadian nickel miners Inco ( N) and Falconbridge ( FAL). Arif maintains an outperform rating on Phelps. Friedman Billings Ramsey has banking relationships with Phelps, Freeport and Inco. In other metals, Comex contracts for September delivery of copper closed at $3.4650 a pound, up 0.4 cents. The market remains concerned about supply interruptions at Chile's Escondida mine.